Better Car Batteries

February 19, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Most people don't give much thought to their car battery until it dies. But there's a lot to think about, whether you're getting a new one or you just want to keep your car running strong.Each year Consumer Reports testers put car batteries through, well, a battery of tests.

The batteries are continuously drained and recharged until they can't start a car chilled to zero degrees and even subjected to more than 160-degree heat, all to see which ones work best.

Consumer reports tested nearly two dozen car batteries with names like Diehard, Napa, and Duralast. This traditional battery cost $70 while this new type called an absorbed glass-mat battery, or AGM cost $180.

Why is it so much more expensive?

John Galeotafiore, Consumer Reports, says "These batteries contain absorbent fibrous glass material that can make them last longer. They're also sealed and spill proof, which can make them safer than conventional batteries."

Most of the AGM batteries outperformed traditional batteries.

Another plus with the AGM batteries; they're maintenance free. You don't have to refill them with distilled water like you do with some regular batteries. That's particularly important if your battery is tough to get to.

Galeotafiore says, "The battery in this car is buried below the air filter, and you have to access it through the wheel well. More and more cars have batteries in hard-to-reach places."

Consumer Reports says when getting a new battery, it's important to check the manufacturing date. "You don't want to buy a battery that's more than six months old because they lose strength when they're sitting on the shelf," says Galeotafiore.

Some batteries have an obvious manufacturing date. Others use a letter for the month, like "A" for January, followed by the year.

There are a number of things that can shorten the life of your car battery. For instance, if most of your driving is short trips, your battery doesn't get enough time to recharge. And living in a hot climate is tough on auto batteries.

And it's a good idea to get your battery tested at least every four years so you're sure it's got enough power to get you where you want to go.


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